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Swiss champion Adrian Lehmann dies of a heart attack

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Swiss champion Adrian Lehmann dies of a heart attack

Last year Adrian Lehmann became Swiss champion at the Zurich Marathon. He has now died at the age of 34 after a heart attack during training.

Last year Adrian Lehmann was the fastest Swiss at the Zurich Marathon.

Anthony Anex / Keystone

Adrian Lehmann finally wanted to take part in the Olympic Games this summer over the marathon distance of 42.195 km. It was his third attempt at the Summer Games; he had failed unsuccessfully in both 2016 and 2021. To fulfill his dream, he would have had to beat the limit of 2:08:10 at the Zurich Marathon on Sunday morning. That is his next big goal, he wrote on his homepage.

The Zurich Marathon seemed to him to be the right opportunity to set the limit for the games in Paris. Last year he became Swiss marathon champion in Zurich with a personal best time of 2:11:44 hours.

But just a few hours after the end of the Zurich Marathon on Sunday, the Swiss Athletics Association announced that Adrian Lehmann had died after a heart attack. Lehmann was 34 years old. He died on Saturday evening, Swiss Athletics wrote in a statement. There was great consternation on social networks afterwards.

More serious consequences than initially assumed

Lehmann suffered a heart attack last Thursday while preparing for the Zurich Marathon. It was initially announced that he had been taken to hospital in a stable condition, where he remained for medical observation. The consequences of the heart attack turned out to be more serious than initially expected, the athletics association wrote on Sunday.

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Why does a top endurance athlete suddenly suffer a heart attack after years of intensive training and many competitions?

Patrik Noack is chief physician of Swiss Athletics and chief physician of Swiss Olympic until 2022 and can look back on a quarter of a century of experience in top-class sport. At the request of Adrian Lehmann’s family, he does not want to say anything about the specific case. However, he points out the specific measures that are taken by squad athletes in the endurance area. Most associations, including Swiss Athletics, have their athletes have a resting electrocardiogram (ECG) done every two years. If abnormalities are identified here or during the annual blood samples and sports medical examinations, further investigations will be carried out.

Football players and some other sports even undergo stress ECG and cardiac ultrasound. “However, it is not clear whether these methods bring more cases of heart disease to light,” says Noack, which is why most associations do not use them.

In general, only very few competitive athletes are diagnosed with heart problems. In his long time as a sports doctor, Noack has advised a single athlete under the age of 18 not to do sports; he can only remember three cases with older athletes. And an ultrasound examination of the heart would only have to be ordered for at most one in a hundred athletes examined.

Lehmann was one of the best marathon runners in the country

Noack speaks to Adrian Lehmann of a “brutally tragic event”. He can’t remember ever hearing of a death in high-performance endurance sports. He says: “Statistically, for every hundred thousand to a million hours of exercise, only one sudden cardiac death is recorded.” There are many possible causes, such as an infection, vascular diseases or genetic dispositions. But everything cannot be identified in advance.

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Adrian Lehmann, who died at the age of 34, was one of the strongest marathon runners in the country; only five Swiss men in history ran the 42.195 km faster than Lehmann. The runner, who lives in the Upper Engadine, has been part of the national squad for a long time and has won national championship titles over all long distances: 10 km, half marathon and marathon. One of his greatest successes was third place with the Swiss team in the marathon at the 2014 European Championships in Zurich. Two years later, he even managed to win the half marathon with the European Championship team.

Lehmann then increased the amount of training. The increased strain resulted in several stress factors, so that he was only back at a good level in 2019, after adjusting the volume and intensity of training. Most recently, Lehmann trained as a full professional, accompanied sports trips and coached endurance athletes.

The collapse of professional footballer Christian Eriksen on the occasion of the 2021 European Football Championship recently caused major international headlines in connection with heart problems among top athletes. The Dane collapsed in the game against Finland for no apparent reason. He was transported to the hospital; A few days later he had a defibrillator implanted. Eriksen’s story with a heart problem came to a good end: in 2022 he was called up again for friendly games and also took part in the World Cup in Qatar with Denmark. He is currently under contract with Manchester United.

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